March 2021: Editorial

Witnessing in a new way …

Ninety-four year old Mary has a laptop, set up by her great-grand-daughter. During Mass, Mary lights two candles and places them each side of the screen. She takes flowers from her garden ‘to reverence the presence of the Lord’ – as Mary told me. She has a quarried faith that hallmarks her generation. It is a special part of a hidden Ireland. The pandemic forced Mary and all of us into isolation. But with increased proximity of webcams, Mary is an enthusiastic faith-witness.

Online prayer and Masses opens up new questions of what it means to be present with the faith realities of others through the laptop and mobile phone screen. This new way of witnessing is to be welcomed as it links us to inter-faith and inter-church communities of believers.

I am reminded of the French Jesuit priest-palaeontologist, Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) and his prayer, ‘Mass on the World’. It was inspired by a difficulty that he faced during his research expedition in Asia. At times he did not have bread or wine to celebrate Mass. He never failed to give thanks to God wherever he found himself. He lived and prayed a cosmic ecclesiology.

“Since once again Lord, on the steppes of Asia,
I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar,
I will raise myself beyond these symbols,
up to the pure majesty of the real itself.
I, your priest will make the whole earth my altar.
I will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world.”

This prayer is in keeping with the desired ecclesial vision of Pope Francis. He sees the earth as our common home to be shared by all. Ninety-four-year-old Mary connects with her ‘God of all creation’ through the flowers from her garden. They give a fragrance to her prayer. A net-worked church expresses the same objectives of Pope Francis and Pére Teilhard: to connect everyone by forming one body and one spirit in Christ.

In this time of lockdown and digital participation in Eucharistic celebrations, we are open to rethink the spirituality of sacramental and liturgical actions. The Second Vatican Council which began nearly sixty years ago – renewed and heralded a new attitude and outlook by the Church towards the world. The Church is the servant of all humanity and wants to dialogue as well as listen to everyone.

The closing of churches and places of worship has been marked by a new look on the domestic church and the re-evaluation of the family. People have rediscovered their homes as holy ground. This was the experience of the early Christians. They met in their homes to pray, ponder on the Word of God and ‘break the bread’ of the Eucharist.

Jesus says something startling to the un-named Samaritan Woman at the Well: ‘It will neither be on this mountain nor in Jerusalem that they will worship the Father, but in Spirit and in Truth’ (Jn 4:21-23). This tells us that the place we are to worship God is the temple of our own bodies. We never do this in isolation – despite the present lockdown. We do this as part of the connected, community of communion that is the Body of Christ.

There are many ways to pray to God: at home, in the church, climbing a mountain, walking in the fields, sitting in a park and linked with others, near and far, through the internet. God’s presence exceeds all time and space. Ninety-four-year-old Mary heartily embraces God’s presence in the hearth of her home. Teilhard de Chardin embodied God’s presence when he lived in China from 1926 to 1946.

John Cullen

NOTE FROM EDITOR: The Icon of St Brigid that featured on the cover of the February issue of Intercom is located in St Brigid’s Parish Church in Kildare.